Personal Poetry: An Introduction to Narrative Poetry

Here are some simple and easy to manage lesson ideas to introduce narrative poetry in your classroom.

By Dawn Dodson

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An Introduction to Narrative Poetry

As a part of a poetry unit, I like to have students take a closer look at narrative poetry. It tells a story, and has a beginning, middle, and an end. It has recognizable story elements, like a setting and characters. I think it is important to take time to focus on this form of poetry for a couple of reasons. First of all, it serves as a review of story elements, and secondly, it's a form that can be easily written, shared, and understood. Because of its accessible nature, narrative poetry can provide a positive experience for both avid and reluctant poetry readers.

Introducing Narrative Poetry Using "Casey at the Bat"

When introducing the narrative poetry form, I like to provide students with a plot line diagram and a copy of the poem "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer. I use this poem because my sixth graders understand the vocabulary, and they are able to make connections to the experience. I also normally teach poetry in the spring, and the baseball theme is a great fit.

  • First, students read the poem silently.
  • Then, as a class, we identify the setting, the characters, and the conflict and resolution.

Conducting a Reader's Theater

After a class discussion, students are given a reader's theatre version of the poem to perform. I've done this a couple of different ways, and I always allow the class to choose how they present it. Students either read or present the poem in groups or as a whole class. Whether they do it as a group, or with the whole class, I've found that either way has been successful. Each student performs a role presented in the poem. We use the poem to discuss the setting, characters, and point of view. After the performance, I ask students to write in their journals about the similarities or differences between this poem and the other stories or plays we’ve read that year.

Rewriting a Poem

As a follow-up assignment, I have students re-write the poem "Casey at the Bat" from a different point of view.

  • First, we make a list of the characters and their traits.
  • Then I divide the class into groups. Each group is assigned a character from the poem.
  • Students can re-write the poem as a group or independently. Based on past experience, I've found that my sixth graders create more vivid and detailed stories when working in small writing groups.
  • Students are also required to complete a plot line diagram, which includes at least one problem the character faces and the solution.
  • Students use the completed diagram to write their poems.

Creating a Life-Size Character Sketch

Once the poems are completed, edited, and revised, I provide each group with bulletin board paper. Each group creates a life-size character sketch on the paper. Students draw their chosen character and include a character description with the illustration. We display the character drawings while each group presents their poem. In the past, students have performed their poems as a reader’s theatre. If time allows, I’ve had students trade their poems and perform one another’s in groups.

After participating in these activities, students have had experience analyzing and writing a narrative poem. As an extension, students could write an original narrative poem. What follows are more narrative poetry lesson ideas.

Narrative Poetry Lessons:

Teaching Selected Poems from Jim Wayne Miller’s “The Brier Poems”

This lesson allows students to analyze narrative poems and identify story elements. It does a wonderful job leading students through the reading and thinking processes of poetry analysis and identification.

Poems that Tell a Story: Narrative and Persona in the Poetry of Robert Frost

This lesson is a wonderful study in both narrative poetry and the works of Robert Frost. The structure of this lesson could easily be modified to accommodate other poets and poetry forms as well.

Place and Character in Poetry

Students study setting and analyze character in this lesson. As a part of a poetry study, this lesson could be used and adapted for use in story element/analyzing review and/or introduction.

Personal Narrative Brainstorm

Students learn about voice through reading an example of a narrative essay. Using the example as a guide, students brainstorm ideas for their own narrative in order to begin writing an original essay. This lesson can be modified to fit a poetry or fictional unit of study, as well as serve as a great lesson to inspire students to brainstorm and create their own narrative poems.